Think for a moment about chatbots for B2B lead generation… What do you feel? Do you recall The Terminator, The Matrix, or Westworld? These are just a tiny fraction (although probably the best ones) of our human culture that play on our subconscious fear of the machines we create. Or, perhaps you feel the fear of missing out? Everyone’s talking about how this breathtaking technology is helping their business. Everyone but you… 

You stop and ask yourself whether it’s nobler to stay among the 99.5% of B2B companies that don’t have chatbots. Or should you spend your time and money in order to finally adopt Conversational Marketing, dive in with technology and stand out in a sea of rivals? To chatbot or not? 

In today’s article, we’ll examine the pros and cons of chatbots for B2B lead generation.

Some good music to get that particular mood:

Before beginning the in-depth discussion of the chatbots for B2B lead gen let’s outline some basics to make sure that we’re on the same page here.

Chatbots are programs designed to simulate a human-to-human conversation. They’re built to help businesses automate communication with customers and reduce the “human” factor in these interactions.

Types of chatbots

Applied in business (both B2C and B2B):

1. By technology:

  • AI – analyses the request written by a person and answers (still has problems with understanding human beings and natural language, also costly, so isn’t great for lead gen).
  • Preprogrammed – a user is offered to choose between several questions and based on their choice gets an answer

2. By medium:

  • Website.
  • Social networks.
  • Messenger.
  • Email.

3. By Purpose :

  • For external use:
    • Lead Generation 
    • Lead scoring/qualification
    • Customer Support
    • Sales
    • Mixed
  • For internal use:
    • automation of business processes, e.g. answering the regular inquiries to HR dept., scheduling, appointment booking, etc.

4. By human participation:

  • Fully digital (don’t redirect to human – e.g. support)
  • Half-digital (e.g., containing an inquiry to connect with a person)

5. By “working hours”:

  • Only during SDR’s non-working hours
  • 24/7

The advantages and disadvantages of chatbots

The CIENCE business model is People-as-a-Service. Thus, it might seem that we should be opponents to chatbots from the fear of them talking away our bread. However, we’re still very far away from The Matrix reality (unless we’re already in Matrix and just don’t know it!). No AI has passed Turing’s test yet. Until we provide a similar growth experience to machines along with the ability to feel, those who fear robapocalypses can chill out.

On the other hand, the automation of business processes that comes with the introduction of certain software enables us to free our human mind for more creative tasks that no AI can yet solve.

In this light, chatbots provide amazing opportunities for B2B lead generation in particular and for any company in general.

The advantages of chatbots:

  1. Time

This is probably the most important advantage of bots. We create machines and automation not to work less but to work more efficiently. And chatbots kill two birds with one precise shot (obviously if you create content and program it correctly):

  • Response time

When I’m buying products or services online for my own needs (B2C), I seldom ask questions to salespeople unless I can’t find the necessary information. In this case, I expect to get a response within 30 seconds (or less if I’m honest). For some people, the time they’re willing to wait for the answer is non-existent.

Similarly, in B2B, buyers ask questions to sales and expect an immediate response. One could argue that B2B buyers are trained in a B2C world and bring those expectations forward everywhere they go.

On the flip side, your salespeople, even SDRs, can’t be attached to your chat 24/7/365. They need to eat, to sleep, to do their daily chores, to bond, to have some time enjoying their hobbies or otherwise engage with other clients, etc. 

At CIENCE, we have around 260 SDRs. Some of them are bookworms, some are amateur musicians, and artists, many enjoy workouts, while others love competitive gaming. We have one person who’s into origami and leaves tender paper miracles in hidden places in the office. They are bright personalities that are determined to do their job at the best of their capabilities. But they also need a work-life balance.  

Meanwhile, your decision-makers can write to you at any time of day or night. Taken into account that the USA has 4 primary time zones (not including Alaska, Hawaii, and some other territories), you can receive an inquiry in a chat window at any time. And we do.  

When a CEO in LA clicks on a tiny message icon on your website in order to ask questions she or he considers important to make the next move in their buying journey, your SDR anywhere else in the world is enjoying her/his free time in a local pub or in case of some early birds is simply sleeping. 

Don’t make your prospect wait. Many of them use their free time (evening, to be precise or early in the morning) to look for opportunities for improving their work. They’re looking for your product and your service. Be the one who serves. Don’t put obstacles in their way – pave that road with yellow bricks to your Emerald City instead!

  • The conversation duration.

This is the case when quantity transforms into quality.

There are several questions that most of your prospects/site visitors would ask. Similar to many sales organizations, all SDRs in CIENCE have a “canned responses” file. Despite having all the answers to FAQs ready, it takes some time to copypaste the necessary information.

By the time the prospect gets to a human being, she/he has already received answers on their most urgent questions. Now, you’ve built the grounds for a more in-depth conversation. While its duration will be shorter, the quality of engagement will be much better.

Furthermore, several questions will help you filter out the website visitors who don’t fit your ICP (by title, industry, company type or problem they’re experiencing). Some of the conversations between your SDRs and prospects won’t happen, that’s true. But those that happen will be of higher quality (namely, they will be better converting).

  1. Control

When a decision-maker starts a conversation with an SDR, it’s hard for the latter to guide and ask prospecting questions. Similarly, it’s hard to avoid certain inquiries that your sales team usually answers in the later stages of the purchasing funnel for certain reasons.

Example: Company A designs and rebuilds interiors for offices. They receive an inquiry for their prices. However, the cost of their work heavily depends on several factors, including office location, size, desired style, the statement of the building, etc. Before speaking about the price they want to find out more about the potential buyer.

They lost several leads when an SDR refused to tell prospects the price and offered to set up an appointment instead. He attempted to ask about the needs and pain points of the prospects but was interrupted several times. 

Eventually, the company programmed the bot to ask prospecting questions (avoiding price) and to provide the respective answers that demonstrated their expertise and professional level. When prospects got to the human, they had a positive impression of the company and perceived the opaque answer about the price more easily. Bots, at least in 2019, can sometimes get away with more than humans when it comes to the delicate dance of top-of-the-funnel positioning. 

  1. Giving an option for those who really hate talking to sales

Recently I had a horrible experience at a pet shop. I was in a hurry and wanted to buy some food for my cat. It was an important day. When I came in, there was a shop’s saleswoman and a door-to-door salesman. 

The latter was trying to sell a screen protector for a mobile phone. He was over-persistent despite the fact that the woman told him several times that she’d already tried this type of glass and it cracked. He didn’t care that I was waiting. Horribly, he never cared for the fellow salesperson as he was interrupting her from doing her job – which was selling me some cat food.

Working in B2B lead gen company, having had numerous conversations with our VP of Sales Michael Maynes, who regularly preaches that selling should be an education — not pushy — I was furious, to say the least. It was a horrible example of sales malpractice.

I suppose, we all have such unpleasant experiences with salespeople. Too pushy, too salesy, too annoying. It’s just how Miley Cyrus put it in her recent hit: 

So, back up, back up, back up, back up, boy, ooh. Don’t mess with my freedom.

What’s different is how we emotionally respond to these experiences. Some people are overwhelmed and prefer a more digital buyer journey than others.

Why not respect their wish and give them a more psychologically secure environment where they interact with seemingly obedient robots rather than predictably pushy human beings?

  1. Improving the communication with your website visitor

In this article, Hubspot describes their experiment with a chatbot. They started it because they received numerous inquiries from their existing customers who wanted to get (technical) support with the CRM in the chat window.

Needless to say, sales reps who received these messages were neither qualified nor incentivized to fix the customers’ issues (as they were more preoccupied with creating new clients).

First, Hubspot added an option in the chat window that offered support. Later they also added lead generation questions. As a result, their sales began getting fewer conversations, while the number of meetings increased compared to the “pre-bot” era.

Not all websites will need a “support” option in their chatbot windows. For example, at CIENCE we have an Account Management approach so our customers address all customer issues to Customer Success Managers and/or SDRs assigned to their accounts. 

That is why, for us, it would be more logical to provide Persona-based questions, e.g., for a CEO: “How can CIENCE help improve the ROI of my business growth?”, or for Head of Sales: “How can CIENCE help my people with getting more qualified leads?”, or for Head of Marketing: “How can CIENCE help me build email marketing strategy from scratch?”

Some companies have a special account-protected website section (for clients only – with a ‘Contact Support’ button). They thus have fewer support inquiries in a window made for lead gen purposes. However, such companies might offer different types of products/services for different types of clients. In this case, it would be nice to create a separate educational journey for each type.

So the basic idea is not to bluntly add a “support” question, but to think of how your chatbot can: 

  1. Make your chat conversations more efficient.
  2. Improve the website experience for each visitor by sorting their inquiries. 
  1. No developers needed

Chatbots are on the rise. There are plenty of tools out there that sell a ready-made chatbot. As a result, you don’t need to hire a pricey developer. All you need is to buy a tool, fill in the content and provide an algorithm (if … then …). Great chatbot software options abound on 3rd party review sites like G2, TrustRadius, and Gartner.

  1. Beyond Inbound

At CIENCE, we offer our clients a landing page option for all email campaigns as part of our agency services. When a prospect wants to know more about a company and clicks on the link in the text or signature of our email campaigns, she/he gets to a special page with a chat window and/or a calendar form that enables those prospects to set an appointment right on site.

Such landing pages are very efficient, especially when you have a custom-built campaign (e.g., dedicated to some event). We program chatbots to answer key questions of prospects during non-business hours. For some projects, such bots work 24/7/365. This gives a great boost to the campaign. 

Another way to augment your outbound prospecting activities is to use email chatbots. 

  1. Chatbots don’t have bad days

And we envy them for this reason. Emotional letdowns are part of human life. It’s ok to be sad, angry, or devastated at times. Alas, when your job is to communicate with people, it can affect your work directly.

Disadvantages of chatbots

  1. Designing content is the hardest part.
  2. Social Media Chatbots are subject to rules that might change in the future out of your control.
  3. It’s not a human and it can’t replace human-to-human interactions.
  4. You can’t program all the inquiries your potential customers might have, so eventually you will have to redirect them to real people.

Programming your chatbot

While the word ‘programming’ might be somewhat misleading when applied to chatbots (because it is associated with writing computer code), I prefer it to all other words because you create a ‘program’ for your chatbot users. You shape their journey if you like.

Tips on how to program your chatbot:

  1. Apply FUF principle

FUF stands for Friendly-Useful-Fun. I used this abbreviation for easier recall. It is based on the research by Petter Brandtzaeg and Asbjørn Følstad. In 2017, they published the results of their study: “Why people use chatbots.” Here’s what they found:

“The vast majority of participants (68%) reported productivity to be the main reason for using chatbots. These participants highlighted the ease, speed, and convenience of using chatbots. Also, they noted that chatbots provide assistance and access to information.” 

Screenshot from the paper Why people use chatbots

Of 146 respondents, 94 were females and 52 males with a median age of 30. They reported using chatbots of Facebook, Skype, Kik, Viber, Slack, and Telegram.

As you can see from the picture above, around 19% of respondents used chatbots for entertainment, while 12% for social interactions.

Summing up, a good chatbot should resemble humans, be fun, and useful.

This gives us a picture of how to program our bots. Above all they should accomplish at least a few jobs well. 

  1. Laconic is iconic

First, people don’t use chats for long conversations (this is the province of phone-calling). Second, the chat window is small thus reading and scrolling a long text won’t be a pleasant user experience.

Here’s an example:

A screenshot of a chatbot

I received 4 messages within 2-3 seconds. Humans don’t type that fast and as a rule, we have time to read and consider the message that another person has just sent us. In the above case, I hadn’t finished the first message when it disappeared from the screed and was replaced by the next one. 

I had to scroll up and try to tune in again. I have a small laptop, no mouse, and scrolling isn’t actually my favorite activity. What can be done here is adding a button between messages 2 and 3. Something like: “Go on, machine, you’re on fire!”

What I really like about this particular chatbot is that they know that I work for CIENCE! This means they’re qualifying me right now. Great job!

  1. Speak their language. While this should be applied to any content you create it’s even more important for tiny chatbots messages. Think of the key phrases that ‘trigger’ your customers. When considering the ways to shorten your message (see tip 1) we suggest making those phrases the core of your text and never removing them.
  2. Jack of All Trades. In the above-mentioned Hubspot Experiment, the chatbot was designed to serve different audiences that come to your website for different reasons. In this case, we suggest giving several possible routes based on Buyer Personas and ICPs and/or products/services.
  3. The master of none. Your chatbot serves a particular purpose although some might argue that the only reason we made them is that we could (just like Halloway said to a wayward Android David in Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’… an underestimated movie about the limitless desire of human beings to know more even at the cost of their lives). 

Your bot is a gatekeeper that answers the questions, redirects inquiries unrelated to sales, and keeps users engaged and entertained. So if you make too many options or provide too much information, people will find this an overwhelming experience.

  1. A chatbot is an algorithm that’s like a tree with multiple branches. 

It’s good to build each branch and write content for it separately. You might need to visualize this tree, for example, to draw it on a whiteboard. Spreadsheets are also useful. 

It’s also generally a good idea, once you’ve programmed your chatbot, to read aloud the experience in a role-play. This gives an immediate read on the suitability of the experience you’ve designed.

More content tips

5 non-standard lines for a chatbot to call a human being:

  • “I have an assistant from the non-digital world. I can connect you two.”
  •  “If you take the red pill, you’ll leave the matrix and meet our prophet”
  •  “You’re tired of robots, aren’t you? Wanna talk to someone real?”
  • “I have my limits when it comes to answers. Are you ready to meet someone who can tell you more?”
  • “Connect me with someone who has a beating heart”

5 non-standard lines for a chatbot to book a meeting:

  • “I like you so much! Let’s meet in the flesh. I’ll be in Jack Sullivan’s body, our sales manager”
  • “If I book a meeting with you now, I’ll get 0.003 bitcoins on my virtual account. Do you agree?”
  • “I know a person who can definitely help you solve this problem. You can talk to Jane via Zoom, at 10 PM PST, this Thursday. Will that do? 
  • “I need to go feed my electric sheep. If it’s ok, can I quickly set an appointment with our sales Dan for you?”
  • “Hey! I’ve just told Jill about you! She wants to meet you a lot. What if I connect you two via Skype?”

10 Chatbot Statistics:

  1. The number of monthly active users of messaging apps is more than 5 billion. (Hubspot, 2017)
  2. Facebook’s bot platform has already been used to create 300,000 chatbots. (venturebeat.com, 2018)
  3. The top industries which are already profiting from chatbots include Real Estate, Travel, Education, Healthcare and Finance. (chatbotslife.com, 2019)
  4. Among all the B2B companies, only 0.5% was using chatbots in 2018. (Nerdydata, 2018) 
  5. 58% of companies using chatbots technology are focused on B2B. (Chatbot magazine, 2019)
  6. 41% of people that start online chats with businesses are executives (The State of Chatbots Report, 2018).
  7. The average time it takes a company to respond to a message is 10 hours on messaging platforms (Oracle, 2016).
  8. 64% of internet users say 24-hour service is the best chatbot feature (The State of Chatbots Report, 2018).
  9. 80% of businesses are expected to have some sort of chatbot automation by 2020 (Outgrow,2018).
  10. 71.2% of companies using chatbots have less than 50 employees (Landbot.io)
  11. Between 2016 and 2021, we expect the chatbot marketing to grow at a compound rate of 35.2%. (Marketsandmarkets, 2017)

Summary

Chatbots can help any company increase the quality of engagement with existing customers and potential buyers that visit your website, page on social networks, or interact with you via email or messengers. To achieve success, you don’t need to hire a developer as there are many companies that sell ready-made bots.

You need a profound understanding of your users and customers (what they do on your website and what they want to learn from you). A talented copywriter is your key to success.

Anastasia Voitehina
Content Writer

Anastasia Voitehina is a Content Writer at CIENCE Technologies. She creates passionate articles, witty infographics and smart charts dedicated to B2B Lead Generation. Anastasia also records the company's history and writes inspirational stories about her colleagues.